Stars of Vaudeville #158: Douglas Fairbanks
The man whose name became synonymous with “swashbuckler” began his adult life in tame enough a fashion. After a brief stint at Harvard and a desultory early stab at the theatre he married Anna Beth Sully in 1907 and went work as an executive at her father’s soap factory. When that didn’t work out, he tried to make himself into a stock broker. Finally, when he just couldn’t stand it anymore, he plunged back into the theatre. He toured vaudeville in 1912 with the comic one-act A Regular Business Man (type-casting). After a role in the Broadway show He Comes Up Smiling, he returned to vaud in 1914 with a playlet called All at Sea. He broke into films in 1915, and worked steadily on celluloid for many years. (Interestingly, for the first 5 or so years of his movie career he made light comedies; there is a big section on him in my new book Chain of Fools).
He became a superstar with his swashbucking costume dramas of the 20s, such as The Mark of Zorro (1920), The Three Musketeers (1921) and The Thief of Bagdad (1924). In 1920 he married Mary Pickford, “America’s Sweetheart”. In 1933, Pickford did her own vaudeville time at the New York Paramount with a short play called The Church Mouse.
DISTINGUISHED PROGENY: Why, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, of course.
Here’s some of the only surviving footage of the lost 1918 feature He Comes Up Smiling:
To find out more about these variety artists and the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.